What on earth is the truth about carbs? There are a lot of half-truths floating around out there about a whole lot of things in the health and fitness world, but the carbohydrate narrative is one of the most misleading. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, carbohydrates are the most widespread organic substances and play a vital role in all life. But many types of health and fitness professionals, media, and diet trends are telling a different story.

The truth is, the human body loves carbohydrates. They are the body’s preferred source of energy. About 50% of the calories Americans consume come from carbs. Believe it or not, that’s on the low side of the USDA recommendations and on the even lower side of what science says about how many carbs we should consume. So we actually need more carbs, not less. (You may be skeptical of this, but I bet part of you is bursting with joy over that statement! Could it be true? Yes, yes it is.) But not all carbohydrates are created equal. 

Damaging Half-Truths

The low-carb camp is misled, but they do have one thing right: highly processed, refined carb foods are disastrous for health and should be avoided. Highly refined carbs are stripped of fiber (one of the most important parts of a human diet) and other healthful micronutrients but packed with a condensed load of calories. Essentially, the body doesn’t distinguish those highly processed carbs from white sugar, and handles them just the same – leading to weight gain. Refined carbs have been taken from complex to simple carbs in their processing. Simple carbs spike your insulin, leave you hungry sooner, and cause all kinds of other problems. I like to think of them as unhelpful. They are pesky trouble makers.

The problem is, when you just say “avoid carbs”, the whole grains and refined grains are lumped into the same category. The most dangerous lies are the ones that are half-true.  

the truth about carbs

Why you need complex carbs

(whole grains, starchy vegetables, legumes) 

Whole grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes (also high in carbs), in contrast to refined grains, are easily and efficiently used for energy. All the “blue zones,” the world’s healthiest, slimmest, and fittest people (google that, it’s fascinating), have historically obtained the bulk of their calories from starch. Barley, corn, millet, potatoes, rice, wheat, beans, sweet potatoes, oats. The list goes on! These are complex carbs, or helpful carbs as I like to call them. Our bodies break them down slowly over time into simple sugars, that slow conversion gives us sustained energy. These are also the foods that the keto, atkins, and other low or no-carb diets tell you to avoid. 

But complex carbs don’t make us fat or sick. They are the foods that are consistently associated with better health and greater satiety, or fullness and satisfaction (keeps us from overeating). How would you like to be satisfied after every meal and still lose weight or maintain a healthy weight? If you’ve ever gone on a “diet” then I know that sounds fantastic to you. Well, it’s possible with whole grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes! 

How to incorporate whole grains into your diet

Knowing mine and my clients’ experience when embarking on eating more and mostly whole grains instead of refined grains and eating more starchy vegetables, you’re probably wondering where to start. First, it’s important to have a reference list for whole grains and for starchy vegetables. 

Whole Grains:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Corn
  • Einkorn
  • Farro
  • Fonio
  • Freekeh
  • Kamut
  • Kaniwa
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Brown Rice
  • Rye
  • Sorghum
  • Spelt
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Wheat
  • Wild Rice


Starchy Vegetables:

  • Beans
  • Butternut squash
  • Chickpeas
  • Corn
  • Lentils
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Potatoes (white, yellow, red, etc)
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Taro
  • Yams


  • Chickpeas also called garbanzo beans
  • Peanuts
  • Black beans
  • Green peas
  • Lima beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Navy beans
  • Great Northern beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Soybeans
  • Lentils

the truth about carbs


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